To Emerson, there is little distinction between the natural and the supernatural. Rather than parsing the universe into a bifurcated and dualistic compartmentalization of science and theology, he wraps one in the binding of the other. Echoing Augustine in The City of God he writes “The difference between the actual and the ideal force of man is happily figured by the schoolmen, in saying, that the knowledge of man is an evening knowledge, vespertina cognitio, but that of God is a morning knowledge, matutina cognitio.”
Today there seems to be a logical division between science and religion and atheists cling to reason as their highest calling as if it is obviously precluded from faith. Emerson will have none of that. Truth is truth and it is not less so simply because we don’t fully grasp the details. The evidence of God’s existence and continual presence is hidebound in every atom, every gene.
I played in the woods as a boy and had to be forced out of a high tree house when the day was over. Back then, the woods were my friend and playmate and I memorized every leaf. I spent hours alone and there learned the good company of books, nature, and a boy’s imagination.
I see the woods differently now.
A severe draught in 2011 claimed dozens of them, and my heart broke afterwards during the necessary deforestation process. I’m now like a man who has recently lost an eye or a limb, feeling insecure and protective of the remaining life. These days I spend time looking at them from a comfortable swing rather than high in their branches. They are still my friends, but we are old men who silently nod as they teach me about things I still don’t understand.
I hear their voices, but I can never quite understand what they are saying.
It reminds me of a line written by Nathaniel Hawthorn, “There seems to be things I can almost get hold of, and think about; but when I am just on the point of seizing them, they start away, like slippery things.”
I think about what all those old trees have seen – the people they’ve known and the secrets they keep.
They are most precious to me when I see my grandchildren playing there. Like me as a boy, they appropriately take it all for granted, not yet understanding the value of their gift, but also like me, their play under the forest’s watchful eye is creating a safe place in their soul they will retreat to when they are older.
I imagine my granddaughter many years from now, sitting on a sofa speaking to her own granddaughter and saying
“Oh my child, I wish I could explain it to you…”
Emerson is for seekers.
As he writes “No man ever prayed heartily, without learning something. But when a faithful thinker, resolute to detach every object from personal relations, and see it in the light of thought, shall, at the same time, kindle science with the fire of the holiest affections, then will God go forth anew into the creation.”